Tag Archives: bifidobacteria

The day almonds became interesting.

Non-sequiter nutrition: Atwater’s almonds, et al., Op. 87

Almonds have been considered a super-food for as long as I can remember.  And in accord with my level of interest in super-foods, I’ve never cared.  Today, however, almonds became interesting. One small serving of almonds (1 ounce or 28 grams) provide ~171 kilocalories (alternatively, 100 calorie packs have, well, 100 kilocalories).  This measurement of a food’s energy content takes into account the amount of heat produced when it is electrocuted in a bomb calorimeter as well as its digestibility.  The importance of taking both of those things into consideration?  Marshmallows and tree bark produce a lot of heat when they burn.  Unlike marshmallows, however, a tree bark smoothie wouldn’t give us any energy because we can’t digest wood.  This is further complicated because digestibility of a food consumed by itself can differ when it’s eaten with a meal.

Usually, and unlike carbs and protein, the digestibility of fat is impeccably high and unvarying.  Almond oil, however, might be an exception in more ways than one.

Discrepancy between the Atwater factor predicted and empirically measured energy values of almonds in human diets (Novotny et al., 2012)

This was a ridiculously complicated study designed to determine the calories in almonds.  It was a three-way crossover with 18-day feedings of 0, 42, or 84 grams of almonds per day (0, 1.5, or 3 ounces per day).  The researchers gave the volunteers ALL of their food for the entire study, and in exchange, the volunteers gave the researchers the byproducts (urine, feces) for the second half of each feeding period.  This is already an expensive and extremely  labor-intensive study, but I think they were trying to do more than just quantify the calories in almonds; I think they were trying to stick-it-to-the-man.

N.B. the almonds were eaten with normal meals.  The diet was normal.  There are no tricks up my or the researcher’s sleeves.  And I’m honestly fascinated by Table 2.

1.5 servings of almonds (42 grams) had a phenomenal effect on food digestibility.  And 3 servings doubled the amount of non-absorbed calories.  In the beginning of the post I noted that a serving of almonds had 171 kilocalories.  But a serving of almonds increases the non-absorbed kilocalories by about 50.  So does this mean we should re-assign a serving of almonds to 121 kcal?

Yes, the authors decided; and I agree.  And I think this sticks-it-to-the-man.  Perhaps this is the source of almond weight loss lore (?)… imagine the fastidious dieter who weighs out 3 servings of almonds for their daily snack, accounts for the 513 kilocalories in their food diary (but is really only getting 357 kilocalories), and they lose weight…  and those 100 calorie packs only have 68 calories.  Ha!

OK, but just out of curiosity which calories aren’t absorbed?  Are almond calories poorly absorbed, or do almonds block the absorption of other nutrients?

From Table 3, it’s probably fat.  Combined with earlier findings from Ellis, it’s probably almond fat that was trapped inside delicious and crunchy cell walls (Ellis et al., 2004).

In brief, Ellis measured almond fat after three treatments:

1)      Mechanically crushing the almonds

2)      Chewing the almonds (and measuring spit-out almond fat)

3)      Eating the almonds (… and measuring accessible fecal almond fat)

The first two methods didn’t release a lot of almond fat, but the third did, by a little.  As opposed to crushing or chewing, after actual digestion, gut microbes degrade the crunchy cell walls to release the almond fat contained therein.  Unfortunately, however, fat absorption is very inefficient in the large intestine (where this is all happening), which is why the almond fat is either fermented or excreted.

So at this point we’ve got more fat, but also more carbs and fiber from the almond cellular structures making their way into the large intestine (on a high almond diet)… what do the resident microbes have to say about all of this?

A lot, according to a series of studies by Mandalari and his robotic gut simulator  (Mandalari et al., 2008).

Unless you are seriously constipated, the bacterial changes after 24 hours of fermentation are irrelevant.  Looking at 8 hours, which is probably more physiologically relevant, gives us this:FOS, fructooligosaccharides; FG, finely ground almonds; DG, defatted finely ground almonds.

Table 2 (above) is, in a word, perplexing.  Whether or not Mandalari set out to stick-it-to-the-man, he sure did (unless that is just a thing with almonds [?]).  Similar to FOS, almonds had a relatively potent bifidogenic effect.  This is not surprising because of almond’s high fiber content.  What was surprising, however, was that this is completely absent in defatted almonds.  The fiber is the same in almonds and defatted almonds, therefore there is something uniquely magical about almond fat and the long series of unfortunate unlikely events that must occur in order for the bifidogenic effects of almonds to manifest.

The unlikely events: the almond fat must first be protected during chewing and digestion, otherwise it would be absorbed in the small intestine, before it made it all the way to the more “microbial” large intestine.  This is accomplished by almond’s robust cell walls.  Almond fat needs to be released in the large intestine; this requires microbes and is therefore less likely to occur in the small intestine (where microbes are less abundant; if there were more microbes in the small intestine, the almond fat would be released and absorbed before it made it into the large intestine).  The almond fat needs to be not absorbed in the large intestine so it can exert its bifidogenic effect; this happens because the large intestine is inherently poor at fat absorption.  Everything must be exactly in place (kind-of-like in M. Night Shyamalan’s “Signs”): almond’s cellular structure, the intestine’s region-specific digestive enzymes, microbial geography, differential fat absorption capacity, etc., etc.  It’s like an astrological event that occurs once every million years.


Back to the Novotny (Atwater) study for a moment.  48 grams (1.5 servings) of almonds only provide about 5 grams of fiber, but it increased stool weight by almost half.  Fiber is known to increase “regularity,” but the effect of almonds is pharmacologically disproportionate to it’s fiber content.

According to a review by Ahmad (2010), almond oil improves bowel transit time and reduces the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.  Not whole almonds.  Not almond fiber.  Almond oil.  And injecting it might even cure IBS (don’t try this at home; Sasaki et al., 2004).

Is it time for a paradigm switch?  Will almond oil open the door for other fats to be researched for bona fide prebiotic properties, akin to inulin and GOS?

Indeed, almonds became interesting today.

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Dark chocolate meets probiotics; the bifidobacteriomance continues

or the next big thing in functional foods, Op. 84

Altered gut bacteria can cause a whole host of problems, anywhere from depression and fatigue to ADHD and heartburn.  Thus, while running my daily search for “bifidobacteria,” I happened across these little goodies: 

The Attune Foods Dark Chocolate Probiotic Bar.  Combining probiotics (e.g., bifidobacteria, acidophilus, etc.) with chocolate?!  And with 68% cocoa, I’d expect this bar to deliver at least some of the benefits of dark chocolate (e.g., improved insulin sensitivity). They’re gluten-free and even contain inulin! (my second favorite bifidogenic prebiotic.)

And it packs a big, or rather huge, probiotic punch (6.1 billion B. lactis HN019, L. acidophilus NCFM, & L. casei LC-11).  Attune loses a little cred by trying to disguise their sugar as “evaporated cane juice,” like it’s something inherently healthier than plain old sugar… just like all-natural agave syrup, honey, and organic coconut blossom sugar.  just own it for crying out loud.  On the other hand, at only 6 grams, the sugar in Attune’s bar is harmless especially in the context of the high cocoa content, inclusion of inulin, and whopping dose of probiotics.

But, chocolate & probiotics?  Alas, the curiousity bug had bitten.

Apparently, a lot of companies think dark chocolate is a good vehicle for probiotic delivery.

GI Health’s Probiotic Chocolate is gluten-free and contains a half billion L. helveticus R0052 and B. longum R0175 per serving.  A half-billion is low by conventional standards*, but such standards might be irrelevant if the delivery vehicle (i.e., chocolate) is superior.

*Most probiotic products are rated (by me) by the number of live bacteria per serving, or “colony forming units (cfu).”  This is usually in the billions because most die in transit, thus the importance of the delivery method.  Yogurt and apparently now chocolate seem to be good delivery vehicles, however, yogurt and most probiotic pills require refrigeration; these chocolate products do not.  And neither do Nature’s Way Probifia Pearls, although they are the only pill that doesn’t (I suspect alien technology).

gimme Probiotics Dark Chocolate Candies, Youngevity Triple Treat; the list goes on and on.  Apparently, I was late to the game… (expect to see these in your local grocer soon.)

Enough shameless promotion, what about the data?

Possemiers (2010) set out to test how well probiotics survived in a robot gut simulator when mixed in chocolate.  1 billion L. helveticus CNCM I-1722 and B. longum CNCM I-3470 were mixed with either chocolate or milk.  An astounding 85% of the probiotics survived when administered in chocolate compared to only 25% with milk.  FYI the study was funded by Barry Callebaut, a fancy Belgian chocolate maker who is currently developing their own line of probiotic chocolates … it’s not a conflict of interest, it’s what companies should be doing IMO (while an independent third party would be optimal, any data are better than none).  I have no idea how well their robot gut simulator emulates actual human digestion, but these results suggest that chocolate is [at least] potentially a good candidate to deliver probiotics.

An additional benefit of loading probiotics into chocolate is that cocoa itself can function as a prebiotic.  Tzounis (2011) gave real-life live humans cocoa every day for 4 weeks and showed that bifidobacteria increased dramatically.  These findings were confirmed by Fogliano (2011), who showed (via another robotic gut simulator) that water-insoluble cocoa fractions (e.g., cocoa fiber) alone markedly stimulated the growth of bifidobacteria.

So: 1) chocolate is a good vehicle to deliver exogenous bifidobacteria; and 2) cocoa promotes the growth of endogenous bifidobacteria.  win-win.

Why is this relevant?  because probiotics by themselves don’t survive the trip!  They die off somewhere between the factory and your large intestine.  In a study by Prilassnig (2007), 7 people were fed one of 6 different commercially available probiotics for a week.  2 of the products contained bifidobacteria, Omniflora and Infloran.  None of the bifido in Omniflora survived in any of the volunteers, and the bifido in Infloran was detectable in only 1 out of 4.  Feeling lucky?

Thus, chocolate may be not only viable, but an optimal way to administer probiotics.  The bifidobacteria can feed on the cocoa while in transit (from the factory to your cupboard to your bowels), and the cocoa can directly stimulate them along with your native gut flora.

And chocolate with GOS?!  according to Davis (2010), chocolates enriched with 10 grams of GOS increased endogenous bifidobacteria a whopping 3-fold.

Formula for the healthiest chocolate on Earth? >70% cocoa, a billion bifidobacteria, and a few grams of GOS… don’t get your hopes up, however, this won’t likely be made any time soon.  Despite all of the data showing the remarkable health-promoting properties of GOS, it’s still not widely commercially available.  In the meantime, Attune’s use of inulin will have to suffice.



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Gluten vs. gut bacteria, Op. 78

Whether it is being used to treat Celiac disease, autism, or Paleo-deficiency,  a gluten-free diet (GFD) is probably the most inconvenient diet.  There’s no health risk imposed by recreational gluten avoidance; actually, it might even be healthier.

For example, cereal fibre (aka whole grains) provides the majority of gluten in the Western diet.  I have not been shy about my stance on cereal fibre in the past.  In the seminal DART study (Burr et al., 1989 Lancet), people who were instructed to eat more cereal fibre had a higher mortality rate.  There are definitely many nuances and specifics, etc., yada yada yada, but this finding should be your mind’s pantheon for all-things-gluten.


One example of how my brain organizes information:   gluten-free diets include GFCF (duh), Paleo, and Atkins.  The low FODMAPs diet is indirectly gluten-free because cereals and grains are excluded.  N.B. these are all healthy diets… I repeat: GFCF, Paleo, Atkins, and low FODMAPs are all healthy diets.  But don’t take my word for it, Miley Cyrus and Kim Kardashian are also gluten-free (so it MUST be true; there’s no hiding from the Glutenista!).  No grain, no pain!

A downside?  One possible side effect of gluten avoidance is potentially detrimental alterations in gut bacteria.  For example, de Palma and colleagues (2009) showed that a strict GFD significantly reduced bifidobacteria (one of the good guys) in healthy adults.  A GFD is the only clinically effective treatment for Celiac disease, but my gut tells me (no pun intended) that the beneficial effects are not due to reduced bifidobacteria… I’m waiting for a study where a GFD is supplemented with bifidobacteria and inulin/GOS to test this.

On the bright side, the anti-bifido effect of gluten avoidance is not universal.  De Cagno and colleagues (2009) showed that children with Celiac disease have less bifidobacteria in their gut and this is reversed by a GFD (phew!).

gluten - hiding in plain sight... everywhere

Crackpot theory of the week:  could inulin/GOS increase gluten tolerance?  He and colleagues (2008) gave lactose-intolerant patients supplemental bifidobacteria in the form of capsules (1.8×10^9  cfu B. longum) and yogurt (3×10^10 cfu B. animalis) which significantly improved their lactose tolerance (it nearly cured them).  In this study, yogurt provided the prebiotics necessary to ensure survival of the supplemental bifidobacteria.  I imagine inulin or GOS
would’ve had a more profound effect.

Celiac disease, lactose-intolerance, IBS, and veganism are all associated with reduced bifidobacteria and could theoretically benefit from inulin/GOS supplementation.  You could try a diet high in onions, garlic, and breast milk, but cost, availability, and potential for halitosis favor the supplemental route  (finally found a source of high quality GOS).   And it sure as hell beats eating shit.

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Gluten-free food pyramid


taking the fun out of FODMAPs

bring a gun to a knife fight, part II: why “oligosaccharides” are the odd-man out.

The “O” in FODMAPs refers to “oligosaccharides” and includes a very important group of gut-friendly nutrients: prebiotics.  While some specific oligosaccharides are problematic, others are highly beneficial.

The good guys: isomalto-oligosaccharides (MOS), inulin and FOS, and galactooligosaccharides (GOS).  These nutrients stimulate the growth of healthy gut bacteria (bifidobacteria), alleviate gastrointestinal distress, and promote overall well-being.  These are all oligosaccharides, which are unfortunately excluded from the low FODMAPs diet.

support for the above claims:

MOS: Yen et al., (2011)

FOS: Costabile et al., (2012)

GOS: Walton et al., (2012)

Yen showed that at doses of 11 – 22 grams of MOS increased both bifidobacteria and lactobacilli, and improved gut symptoms in a dose-dependent manner.  Similar symptomatic improvements were seen by Chen et al. (2001) with 10 grams MOS per day.  MOS are rarely found in the diet but are present in physiologically relevant doses in Quest Protein Bars.

Inulin is a more complex version of FOS and the form found in the diet (garlic, onions, endive, etc.).  In 1995, Gibson and colleagues showed that both inulin and FOS were roughly equivalent in efficacy: 15 grams of either one increased bifidobacteria and lactobacilli.  Later, Menne et al. (2000) showed that as little as 8 grams of inulin per day increased both bifidobacteria and lactobacilli (moreso than 22 grams of MOS) with a greater effect on the former.  And Kleeson (1997) showed that up to 40 grams was even more effective and was relatively well-tolerated (confirming my suspicion that not all oligosaccharides are created equal…).  Both NOW Foods and Jarrow make high quality inulin/FOS supplements.

Overall, GOS is the most promising.  Depeint and colleagues (2008) showed that 3-7 grams of GOS per day for a week caused a huge and selective increase in bifidobacteria in healthy adults.  Silk (2009) showed even greater benefits in IBS patients.  IBS patients usually exhibit some degree of dysbiosis; indeed, while it isn’t a perfect comparison, Depeint’s healthy subjects had 10 times more bifidobacteria at baseline compared to Silk’s IBS patients.  Unfortunately, however, GOS is yet to go mainstream.  It can be found in Bimuno, which isn’t cost-limiting  until you factor in shipping charges (only sold from the U.K.).  GOS are also present in a variety of infant formulas, which, given their relative scarcity, is a pretty good indicator.

Why is this article sub-titled “bring a gun to a knife fight”?  Because supplementing the bifidobacteria or lactobacilli directly have little impact on the gut microflora.  Even at doses in the billions, almost none of them even survive (see Larsen et al., [2006]; and Tuohy et al., [2006]).  But when combined with some of these oligosaccharides, their effect is markedly improved (Bartosch et al., [2005]).  Probiotics are far more expensive than these prebiotic oligosaccharides, so unless someone had severe GI symptoms, inulin/FOS is the way to go.  On the other hand, if you have IBS, are experiencing gastrointestinal distress, or have recently undergone a course of antibiotics, then a combination of a blend of bifidobacteria combined with inulin/FOS is probably the best treatment.

Be good to your gut.

“Death sits in the bowels; a bad digestion is the root of all evil” – Hippocrates, circa 400 BC


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